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|BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz|
Oct 30, 2016 SERMON ARCHIVE
I love science; truly, I do. I think that the study of the Lord's creation is fascinating, and the intricacies astonishing. I also find it most helpful that science runs according to dependable laws; that way, we can know how many cc's of medicine to inject, or how much steel is required to hold up a bridge. I like that dependability and appreciate how helpful it is.
But all the same, it's not good news. In fact, let's begin with Ginsberg's theorem regarding thermodynamics, because it is also so important when understanding how laws work. Ginsberg said: (1) you can't win, (2) you can't break even, and (3) you can't even get out of the game.
This applies to thermodynamics. It also applies the moral law in Scripture. You can't win, you can't break even, and you can't even get out of the game. Here's what I mean: let's take the body first.
One of the big news stories of recent years was that sunshine may prevent more cancer than it causes, because the skin uses ultraviolet rays to manufacture vitamin D. That would mean, for the average person, that it's not necessary to slap on sunscreen every time you step outside; in fact, doing so would prevent the formation of vitamin D and actually be harmful to you. Studies indicate that, while sunscreen will help prevent skin cancer, vitamin D helps prevent colon cancer, lung cancer and lymphoma.
However, here's the deal: either way, the body eventually falls prey. You have a choice to make: you can slap on the sunscreen and risk harm through vitamin deficiency, or you can go out unprotected and risk melanoma, maybe carcinoma. The choice will vary on personal health, and you have to achieve a balance.
Either way, though, your body eventually suffers harm. Scientifically, that's predictably how it's going to go. It's the law. We might as well add that you can ignore all health warnings and go to extremes: you can just go out and fry, day after day after day, or stay in a dark home and never see the sun. This is not wise, for ignoring health warnings will simply hasten the medical problems that are bound to come. This, too, is the inescapable law. Either way, it's a losing game.
The low-carb diet craze seems to have peaked, but it's still getting plenty of buzz these days. Give up carbohydrates and eat lots of meat, and you're bound to lose weight; and, frankly, eating a lot of beef is a far more attractive diet plan than living on broccoli for several weeks at a go. So, eat meat and lose weight. Sounds good.
Except that if you only eat lots and lots of meat, you'll watch your cholesterol soar to dangerous levels. The choice is yours: the risk of heart disease from being overweight, or the risk of heart disease from clogged arteries. Disease eventually comes, even if you eat healthy and modest meals all your life and continue to exercise: it's the law. And it's a losing game.
I just mentioned exercise, so let's try another one: a strong cardio-vascular workout is a good way to kill stress. Rather than let that stressful energy eat away inside, work it out through some serious exercise-like running. You'll feel better, you'll sleep better, you'll be more relaxed and less irritable.
Of course, running also puts a lot of wear-and-tear on knees and ankles and joints and spines: cartilage slowly wears away while tendons wear out. Running now may mean that it's very difficult even to walk later on. So what do you do now-put up with stress or damage your knees? Eventually, no matter what you choose, both stress and joint problems are going to catch up with you; in fact, those painful knees may lead to a lot of stress later on. Either way, it's a losing game. It's the law.
One more, quickly: medicine today is astonishing, nearly miraculous, and doctors can do all sorts of amazing procedures these days. However, medicines and surgeries have side effects. When you receive medicine to heal one part of your body, you may very well be damaging another part of your body. When you receive treatment to discourage one disease, you may very well be opening the door for another. Do you see? Medicine is great stuff for helping with life, a great gift of God to be used. But in the end, medicine keeps no one alive forever. It's a losing game.
But, you see, that's the law. Do you see the trends at work in the body, the body governed by laws-sin's strength (I Cor. 15:56)? No matter how hard you try, you're still going to die. In the meantime, these laws divide you up and force priorities: will you look after your skin or your lungs?
Do you prefer to risk heart disease or stroke? Will you preserve your knees or your low stress levels?
You can simply live in denial, live the way you want and hasten your doom. But whether you follow good rules for living or not, the clock is on. It's the law-and it's a losing game. So at the end of the day, the primary purpose of the law isn't to make your body live forever, or even to extend your life. The most poignant purpose of those laws of science is continually to preach that the body doesn't last forever
That means that, if you're going to live forever, you need to be saved by Someone apart from the law. I don't think anybody is going to argue with that premise when it comes to the body, so here's the question: can we be just as sensible when it comes to the soul?
Instead of sunscreen and UV rays, let's speak of the sin of lust. It's a widespread sin to be sure, one that takes God's gift of sexuality and twists it into selfish desire. On the other hand, there's the opposite extreme of asceticism: rather than give thanks for God's gifts in marriage, some Christians have taught that all such intimacy is evil and to be avoided, even though this also clearly contradicts the Word of the Lord. The best behavior, then, is somewhere in between, but you'll never pinpoint the ideal in this life. So, you're stuck.
Instead of low-carb dieting, let's speak of the sin of gluttony. Gluttony isn't just harmful to the body. It's a sin of greed that also hurts the soul, a selfishness that demands to be satisfied at whatever cost; thus the Lord warns against gluttony because it replaces God with appetites. That's a killing sin, though a popular one these days.
However, equally popular is the cult of fitness, the idea that God is more pleased with you if you exercise regularly, eat right, look good and avoid too many decadent desserts. Clearly, one is better for your physical health and life; but neither keeps the soul alive. That's the law: again, a losing game.
Instead of exercise, let's plug in covetousness. Again, this is a sin that is both evil and immensely popular: the great flaw of capitalism (still the best economic system out there) is that it's designed to make you want more than you have. Thus, you're rarely content with the things that you have and always want something new and better. It's a sin that leaves you dissatisfied.
Contentment, then, is a virtue to be prized; but with contentment comes the danger of believing that God loves you more when you're content than when you're not. While covetousness puts one in an evil state of perpetual unhappiness, contentment still doesn't give life to the soul. That's the law, and it's still a losing game.
As goes the body, so goes the soul. No matter how hard you try, you're still going to die. No matter how carefully you balance between lust and deprivation, gluttony and asceticism, covetousness and contentment, it doesn't keep your soul alive.
So, just as it was with the body, you can simply live in denial of the whole thing, live your life the way you want, commit whatever sin catches your fancy, harden your heart and hasten your doom. Just as it was with the body, whether you follow good rules for living or not, the clock is on. It's the law; and the law declares that all of your efforts are a losing game.
Please understand: I am not saying the law doesn't matter. I'm not saying that, since the law doesn't save, then go ahead and do what you want. If you leave this place today with the impression that you might as well go ahead and sin freely, then you have listened to your Old Adam, not this sermon.
My point, thus far, is this: for both body and soul, no matter how hard you try, keeping the laws doesn't save. For both body and soul, the primary purpose of those laws is to announce to you that the clock is on-that according to the rules, death is coming.
In the text for our meditation today, Romans 3:21-25, Paul says:
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness .
Jesus came to make you righteous, to save you apart from the Law. In other words, He didn't come to save you by getting you to keep the law better: that's what the Pharisees were all about. In the Gospel lesson, He condemned the Pharisees as false teachers- why? Because they taught the importance of keeping the law for earning salvation.
But no matter how carefully you try to keep it, the law is a losing game! Jesus didn't come to teach you how to lose better! He came to make you a victor by sharing in His victory.
This is the victory He shares: He lived a life in which He perfectly kept the Law on your behalf, to give you the credit for it. He was offered as a sacrifice, shedding His blood to suffer for your sin. He suffered the loss for all the sins of all the world. He was offered as a propitiation, to satisfy God's wrath for sin; and because He was the perfect Sacrifice, He satisfied His Father perfectly and there is no wrath left for your sin. He became your redemption by His death on the cross, purchasing you for Himself at the cost of His life and blood.
So what? So this: as one grows aware of his sinfulness, he will ask the question, "How can I be sure of heaven?" It may be a serious elementary student, or a middle-aged man beaten down by the world or an elderly woman on her deathbed. But in this world, the losing game serves the purpose of leading to that question. As long as the answer is what you have done, then you can never be sure; because no matter how much you have done, the law says it isn't enough.
That is why the answer is always Jesus Christ: He has done enough to save you by His life, death and resurrection. He has enough forgiveness for all of your sins. He has won the victory over sin, death and devil; and He shares that victory with you.
Once again, dear hearers, the Law of God is holy and righteous. Keep it as you are able, for every sin against it seeks to harden your heart and wrench you away from your Savior. But the Law is not your Savior-Jesus is. Apart from the losing game of law and your works, He has done all to win salvation for you. He does not seek to lead you to better loss, but to give you His eternal victory. And because He has done all the labor, the victory is most certainly yours. It is yours with these sweet words: you are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Christ is Risen.
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